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Coach’s advice helped Neeraj Chopra win Lausanne Diamond League

Coach's advice helped Neeraj Chopra win Lausanne Diamond League
Photo Credit : IANS

Mumbai: A timely piece of advice from his coach Dr Klaus Bartonietz helped Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra top the field in the Diamond League 2023 event in Lausanne, despite turning up for the event with low fitness and extra weight.

The 25-year-old Chopra returned to action at Lausanne after a month-long break due to a muscle strain that he picked while winning the season-opening Diamond League event in Doha in May. In Lausanne, he started with a four and could manage only 83.52m in his second attempt as he trailed Julian Weber (86.20m) of Germany and Jakub Vadlejch (84.71m) of the Czech Republic.

Chopra then moved up one place to second with an 85.04 effort on his third attempt, moving past Vadlejch.

Just before he made his fifth throw, coach Bartonietz advised Chopra to lengthen his run-up a bit and speed up a bit on the runway so that he can put a bit more power behind his throw. Chopra followed that advice and sealed the top spot with an 87.66m throw on his fifth attempt. He eventually finished first with Weber coming second with 87.04.

“The injury was on top of my mind at Lausanne. As I got ready for each of my throws, my concentration was to avoid injury and try to achieve the distance I wanted. The weather was a challenge too. I spoke to my coach and he suggest to speed up on the runway. Because I was coming back from injury, therefore my approach was a bit slow. I followed his suggestion for my fifth throw and got a good distance,” Chopra told the media during an interaction facilitated by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) on Monday.

Chopra admitted that he was not at his peak fitness at the Lausanne meet as he had gained a couple of kilos while recovering from his injury and said the cold climate of Switzerland made things difficult for him.

Chopra usually starts competitions with a big effort on his first attempt, which he says helps him gain confidence and put pressure on other throwers in the field. Like in the Tokyo Olympics when he hurled the spear to 87.03m and took the lead, eventually going on to win the gold at 87.58 that he launched in his second try. But in Lausanne on June 30, the Commonwealth Games and World Junior Athletics gold medallist started with a foul and only clinched the issue late with his fifth throw.

“I usually try to get a good start but I always believe that it is not over till the last attempt. I always believe that I can achieve whatever I plan to throw if I give my best in each of my attempts. Of course, the aim always has been to give my best in the first throw so that I can be a bit relaxed.”

“The first throw, I fouled because I felt it was not a good throw, expecting it to be below 80m or even 75m and therefore I deliberately fouled it. I always try to get a big distance in the first throw because that also increases the pressure on the other competitors in the field. But the mentality is to always be ready to give my best till the sixth and last throw. I have won many events in the last throw, like in the Asian Championship in Bhubaneswar, in National championships a couple of times, so I am always ready for such a situation,” said Chopra.

However, having gained confidence from his victory over a tough field in Lausanne Diamond League, Chopra said he is now aware of how much work he will have to put in to get to his peak fitness ahead of the World Athletics Championships, scheduled to be held from August 19 to 27 at the National Athletics Centre, in Budapest, Hungary.

“At this moment my approach is to get physically fit for the World Championship. My physio has made an assessment and we all feel that I can now up the ante and go full throttle in my preparations for the World Championship,” Chopra, a TOPS athlete, who has undergone training in Finland this year.

Chopra is aware that has to work very hard to get fully fit for Budapest. His injury also needs some more work and he also has to make minor tweaks in his technique. He plans to do all these before the World Championships.

Apart from the World Championships, Chopra also wants to come up with his best in the Asian Games 2023 in Hangzhou, China from September 23-October 8. With only about a month between the two mega events, Chopra knows that he will not get much time to prepare for the Asian Games.

Chopra, winner of the gold medal in the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, is likely to face Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem in Hangzhou, who won bronze three years ago and had hurled the spear to 90.18m in Birmingham Commonwealth Games, becoming the first Asian to cross the 90-metre mark.

Chopra said Nadeem is a good thrower and a tough competitor but felt the confidence he gains by topping the competition involving the world’s best throwers will keep him in good stead for the Asian Games.

Besides the Asian Games have been postponed from 2022 to September this year, Chopra said the season will be a bit lengthy and therefore he will get very little off-season break before he starts his preparation for Paris Olympics in 2024.

“Yes, the postponement of the Asian Games to this year means the season will drag a bit late, but there is still enough time for Paris. It means that I will have to get back to training earlier and maintain my fitness during the short break. I have to forget about the off-season break and keep working at my fitness and technique to go on till Paris Olympics,” said Chopra.

Though Chopra won most of the titles and medals that the game has to offer so far, he says the challenge of besting the field comprising the top throwers in the world gives him the motivation to go on and compete in the next tournament.

At Budapest, he has some unfinished business as he wants to improve the silver he won in the 2022 World Championships in Eugene, USA to a gold medal. That will complete the full set of gold medals at the Asian, Commonwealth Games and World Championships, making him the first javelin thrower to achieve the feat.

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